Digital Election Trends in Uganda

While Uganda has not been subject to the same headline grabbing incidents involving voter data sourcing and implementation by data analytics firms as its contemporary countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, such as Kenya or Nigeria, the country does have an ongoing history of political players engaging with voter data and poli-tech during election seasons.

Through qualitative research and interviews with practitioners, Daniel Mwesigwa (CIPESA) examines the period between 2005 and 2020 and argues that the period is characterised by "the highest use of technology and data assets witnessed in Uganda yet" during elections. The full report, Trends of Digital Data Operations in Elections in Uganda from 2005 - 2020, includes reviews of:

  • the evolution of the uses of digital technologies for political communication during the six term presidency of Yoweri Museveni
  • concerns surrounding the effects of the centralisation and digitsation of the national register and biometric data on election integrity
  • the use of digital surveillance tools in telecommunications during - but not limited to - electoral periods
  • the central role of mobile technologies, particularly mobile data and SMS services in spaming election-focused content to voters
  • Ugandan digital ad exchanges and business platforms which claim greater data on demographic insights than global ad exchanges
  • the role of election pollster and their uses of digital means of data collection

The report concludes that while the uses of personal data as an asset and as means of intelligence gathering and influencing elections is still limited, the current ruling party is tech savvy in how it leverages pressure on the telecommunications market and how it sources targeted insights through grassroots surveillance programmes. Furthermore, Uganda is seeing the development of niche and locally relevant digital ad targeting solutions via digital marketing firms specialising on specific regions in Africa or the continent as a whole. Expanding the targeting criteria on Ugandan and African voters will likely result in the same concerns over voter profiling, microtargeting, personal data acquisition and digital privacy take hold in the region.

Select Highlights

  • SMS / mobile texting services play a significant role during election periods, including civic services, polling exercises but also campaign messaging and other content aimed to influence and sway voters. Unsolicited campaign messages via SMS, including the breach of user privacy, are common place and part of a larger mobile texting spam ecosystem.
  • Global digital ad exchanges currently have a blind spot when it comes to granular demographic data in emerging markets such as Uganda. This is creating a market for regionally focused digital ad exchanges which promise greater reach and targetable data in Sub-Saharan markets.
  • The election polling industry in Uganda is adopting digital polling and data acquisition tools within their work field work. While not a game-changing development at this stage, increased digitisation of demographic data and political dispositions will remain a feature in Ugandan politics.

The full report, Trends of Digital Data Operations in Elections in Uganda from 2005 - 2020 can be found read here.